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Sanctuary Bathrooms

A streamlined design, pale colour schemes and perfectly functioning plumbing are all essentials in today’s luxurious bathrooms. Plan your wash space as the ultimate retreat, with our clever tips and ideas.

Bathrooms, now snapping at the heels of kitchens as the most important room in the house, have come a long way in the style stakes. Nowadays our expectations far exceed a utilitarian washroom, and increasingly, we’re prepared to knock through walls to adjacent rooms to make the available space even bigger. We want our bathrooms to live up to the buzzword commands such as ‘relax’ and ‘unwind’ and we want a design that spells luxury, in the same way that boutique hotel or spa bathrooms already do.

Our contemporary fascination with bathing seems to stem from far off lands rather than home ground, when a tin bath in front of a fire was once deemed the luxurious way to get washed. Modern bathroom and shower designs draw influences from Japanese sento houses, Turkish hamams and European saunas, where the emphasis for bathing is on resting and relaxing rather than a quick wash-and-go.

In the UK, until now, luxurious hotels have been the best places to indulge in this kind of bathing ritual. But more recently, urban day spas such as The Refinery ( and Calmia ( have been set up, aimed at reviving downtrodden city workers. It’s no surprise then that people are craving the same kind of environment at home. So why not take a Zen-like lead, and learn how to recreate your own bathroom sanctuary?

Getting the Look

Manufacturers and designers have cottoned on to the trend, and now you don’t have to look far to find products that are in tune with promoting well-being at home. Most conventional bathroom collections boast holistic-inspired designs, such as extra deep baths, overhead shower panels which "deluge" water from above, and unusual materials like wood and concrete. Recently, a trend has emerged for brassware and shower designs that put more importance on actual water flow. For example, look out for narrow slot spouts that imitate a waterfall effect.

For surfaces and colours, nothing quite beats the soothing backdrop of white painted walls and/or tiles. But for something more offbeat, while sticking to the neutral theme, consider surfaces such as polished plaster, limestone, slate or concrete. Colour, if applied with care, also works to set the right tone, especially if you pick shades associated with encouraging relaxation. You can introduce colour using small mosaic tiles for walls and floors, and as a cladding for showers and baths. But avoid garish tones that will interrupt peace of mind.

The Layout

A relaxing bathroom should be well planned to promote a soothing ambience, rather than feeling cluttered. Can you improve the layout of the existing bathroom? This might involve moving around key sanitary ware so that your view is not of the WC! Baths and basins are fairly easy to shift, so if you can, alter your plan without disrupting the WC. The latter can be turned 90 degrees in its position: more than that and you’ll have to move the soil pipe, which is a costly procedure. If planning afresh, consider novel solutions such as facing your bath or shower onto a window, to a Japanese nature-filled feel.

Clutter is not conducive to calm, so work out exactly how much storage you’ll need to keep surfaces free from mess. If space is tight, then choose slim-line fitted furniture. But if you have more room to play with, look at modular storage options or consider a mix-and-match approach. Whether you choose built-in storage or free standing, the choice of materials options are endless, from coloured lacquers to wood and glass. Open shelving and surfaces are good for displaying candles, towels and ornaments.

Plan specific storage close to the bath, as trying to unwind while your eyes are focussed towards acres of lotions and potions is not easy. Incorporating niche shelving, built into the walls by your bath or shower, obviates the need to attach wall-mounted shelving and should prevent stray bottles from accumulating at the end of the bath.

Assessing Practicalities

If you are starting from scratch with a brand new bathroom or shower design, there are a few fundamental things to bear in mind. Work out what is, or isn’t, practically possible in your home, before setting your heart on super-contemporary European brassware or a jumbo-size shower rose. A good plumber will be able to advise. If you have a typical UK low pressure water system, chances are it won’t be able to cope with the enormous water consumption such fittings will need. One solution is to install a pump, to boost the pressure, but if not look out for low-pressure brassware instead.

Think about the amount of space you have to play with. If you have the luxury of a big bathroom, a show-stopping bath looks fabulous at the centre of a room teamed with stand-alone tap columns. Free-standing double ended styles, with central taps, are ideal for two people to share comfortably. Showers built for two offer the same luxury. If you’re stuck with a smallish bathroom, you might even consider making your space larger so that you can accommodate both. Seek professional advice from an architect or interior architect, however, before taking a sledgehammer to the walls.

The Pampering Details

Good lighting is crucial for setting a calming mood, so fit dimmer switches to the overhead lights. You might consider incorporating two light sources, so that task lighting levels are good enough for applying make-up, but there is still the option to have low-level illumination when it comes to unwinding in the bath. Good task lighting options will include back lit bathroom mirrors, or adding wall lights either side of the mirror.

The bathroom needs to be comfortably warm, but not over-heated, so consider two different heat sources. For example you might combine under floor heating – which makes stepping out from a bath even more relaxing – with an electric heated towel rail. The heat output from such rail styles is often too low to be used alone, so this creates the perfect combination.

The ultimate pampering bathroom luxury is to have music piped into the bathroom. Think about wiring the room with a sound system, so that you can lie back for hours on end without worrying about controlling a stereo that lives three rooms away. If that’s not possible, then a good transistor radio also works wonders.

Finally, team your design with quality scented candles, or group together church candles of varying heights for a soft glowing light. And make sure you have plenty of huge fluffy white bath sheets to wrap up in, when you’re finally ready to come back to the real world.


Having less space to play with needn’t mean foregoing a spectacular sanctuary. Making small structural changes can be key to achieving a favoured layout. For example, you might free up precious wall space by moving a doorway or opting for a sliding or outward, rather than inward, opening door. In place of a conventional radiator, you can save space by opting for tall grid-style heaters or under floor heating.

Also look for specialist ‘small spaces’ bathroom products, such as reduced depth basins, compact WCs, corner-fitted basin styles, and smaller baths. You might also consider products that double up on function, like baths or basins that integrate storage. A vanity unit, combining basin and cupboard or shelf space beneath, is a particularly good option. An over-bath shower rather than separate bath and shower cubicle, also makes a space saving compromise. A longer-than-average trough basin is a good substitute for twin basins.

There are plenty of visual tricks that make a space look larger. Wall-mount as many fittings as you can, as freeing up the floor to create an illusion of space. Go for white or light colours and materials, and reflective surfaces, like glass, mirrors, limestone, and glossy tiles. In rooms with low ceilings, recessed down lights will help to increase the feeling of height.

The use of big tiles will keep the number of lines breaking up the space to a minimum, and large floor tiles laid diagonally will create the illusion of longer lines. Using the same tiles on the floor and walls also helps to broaden and heighten the room. But be careful not to go overboard with the wall-to-wall effect or the room will feel like a cell. Instead, introduce contrast with a secondary finish on your basin worktop or as shelving, for visual relief.


An invigorating shower can be just as healing on the soul as a soak in the bath. Pick from self-contained shower enclosures, some with built in seats or twin shower heads, or design a custom-made shower. There are plenty of extras that can be included, such as a steam/sauna cabin, colour therapy mood lights, and massaging body jets. Look out for huge shower roses, separate hand held attachments and thermostatic controls that offer precise temperature control.

These days many people choose to have a wet room, that is, a whole room devoted to the shower. The room doesn’t require a shower tray on top of the floor level, and may even incorporate a basin and WC. But to keep your wet room water tight and safe, follow this essential advice:

TANKING. This is a special waterproof substance applied to the walls, ceilings and floors of the wet room, underneath the final cladding finishes. It prevents excess water from seeping through tiles and damaging the space with damp. PLAN AND ZONE. Keep the shower at the other end of the room from the WC and basin, or incorporate a shower screen or partition wall between them, to prevent soaking sanitary ware and any bathroom furniture. DRAIN. The floor around the shower must slope towards a drain so that excess water is dispersed. A couple of inches of drainage space beneath the floor is also essential. FLOORING. Timber-joist floors will need some preparatory work. The floor level may also need to be raised to accommodate any additional plumbing, and there should be adequate structural support for combined bath and shower areas. A waterproof sub floor, in between the joists and the new floor, is essential as humidity will cause the timber joists to expand. It’s for this reason that basements are a good location for a wet room. SANITARYWARE. Choose white sanitary ware. Trendy stainless steel and glass basins will stand up to water splashes, but you’ll have to continually wipe the products dry to keep them looking at their best. Remember, everything in a wet room will get splashed, so leave the immediate showering area as bare as possible. SURFACES. For a streamlined look, choose identical wall and floor surfaces. Good choices will include limestone, marble, slate, ceramic tiles, or mosaic tiles, which will add plenty of colour and are reasonably non-slip underfoot. (399)

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